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Beyond Leather

The debate on leather is not a new one. However, its importance remains relevant. Where you stand on the leather issue impacts the choices you make as a person and a consumer. This, in turn, impacts society and the environment, plus the countless lives that are inhumanely cut short to create the material.

Some people may be unaware of their leather purchases, as it is used widely from shoes and wallets to couches and car seats. Other people have a ‘loyalty’ to the wearing and using of leather as they associate it with quality or luxury.

Whether you fit within either group or avoid leather altogether, we must all take responsibility for our purchases. And with leather, there is the added moral stance implicated by your purchases.

Cruelty aside, leather is clearly not an environmentally responsible material. Though cowhide is degradable, manufactured leather is not. This is because leather is treated with toxic chemicals to create durability, making it non-biodegradable. This ensures most discarded items will spend a lengthy lifespan taking up space in a landfill. In the mean time, the toxins used in tanneries poison the land they sit on. This makes the lot unsafe for other purposes like agriculture – much like the lot of a former meth lab would be unsuitable for any new inhabitants or occupations.

Another factor one must face is the unavoidable reality of what animals must endure to make leather. While some may think cows are humanely slaughtered (notice the irony in such a statement), this is rarely so. All too often, cows are skinned alive without any form of painkiller. This could hardly seem acceptable to anyone with knowledge of it, animal activists or otherwise.

Still, for those who don’t wean off leather easily, there is the question of what alternatives are available.

We know about ‘Pleather’ but this PVC made material is no more eco friendly than what it’s replacing – although its cruelty free methods certainly put it a leg up. However, we now have access to alternatives that are safe for both animals and the environment.

Barkcloth – made from the Mutaba tree found in Uganda, the process of making Barkcloth does not damage the tree but includes stripping the bark carefully. After the bark is removed, it is pounded with groove mallets and cooked in malleable fiber. Like leather, Barkcloth is does not fray. It is durable on its own and doesn’t require the toxic tanning that leather does.

Cork – found in more than wedged shoes, cork is used for belts and other accessories. It is strong and achieves the rustic look of leather.

Recycled Ultrasuede – made from 100 percent-reconstituted post-industrial materials or scrape materials, including polyester film from unusable television screens. This material was first used by Olsenhaus footwear and makes a great alternative to suede.

Glazed cotton – when glazed and adorned with the proper embellishments, this makes a near identical alternative to leather, especially in the use of handbags.

Paper – supported by a layer of canvas for added strength, recycled paper can be treated with natural oils and heated to create leather-like garments that are velvety soft to the touch – as proven by Brooklyn company Paper 9.

100 Percent Recycled PET – is used to make faux suede that uses 60 percent less carbon emissions than conventional polyester.

Degradable polyurethane – a partially recycled PU that takes only a third of the energy as traditional polyurethane production and is ISO certified; it is also solvent-free and degradable.



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